Skip to main content

On Saturday, I attended a panel at the second annual Politicon event in Pasadena, California, called "The Bernie Panel." It was billed as "a talk on how Bernie Sanders and his supporters have upset the Democratic apple cart, kept Hillary Clinton on her toes and continued to gain momentum in the competitive 2016 Presidential race." When it became clear that the the majority of the panelists were not Bernie Sanders supporters, that the moderator was not going to correct the record on any of the outlandish statements made by the panelists and that he was not going to allow and questions from the audience, as the lead organizer of LA for Bernie, the oldest and largest Bernie volunteer group in Los Angeles, felt compelled to try to interject. And for that, security was called and I was almost hauled out.

Politicon Bernie Panel

Touré Calls Security on Me for Requesting Q & A—Lauren Steiner

The moderator was TV personality and writer Touré, whose show "The Cycle" was cancelled last summer by MSNBC. The panelists were Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post political columnist, Paul Begala, a Democratic campaign consultant, Bill Burton, another political consultant, Ana Kasparian, co-host of popular The Young Turks internet show and Hal Sparks, an actor and TV personality. With the exception of Ana Kasparian, there were no other women and no other Bernie Sanders supporters on "The Bernie Panel."

Everyone knows that Eugene Robinson wrote very disparaging columns about Bernie Sanders for his paper the Washongton Post, which also was very negative on Bernie Sanders, publishing 16 negative stories in an 16-hour period. Paul Begala was an advisor to Bill Clinton and a prominent Hillary supporting pundit during the 2016 primary season. Bill Burton, was another panelist I've never heard of; but it seems fro his remarks that he was neutral in this race. And the final panelist, Hal Sparks, is an actor and cable TV personality who appeared in "Queer as Folk" and "Lab Rats." One wonders what qualified him to be on a panel about the Bernie Sanders campaign. One would think that "The Bernie Panel" would want to have some actual Bernie supporters and more women.

I sat through the 45-minute panel growing increasingly more infuriated by inaccurate comments by the moderator and the panel and lack of rebuttal.

I sat through the 45-minute panel growing increasingly more infuriated by inaccurate comments by the moderator and the panel and lack of rebuttal. Ana did an admirable job chiming in where she could, but she was clearly outnumbered. I began taking notes, so that when the Q and A session arrived, I would be first to the mic to point out the inaccuracies.

First, we had Hal Sparks tell the audience that Hillary had nore votes and delegates, and we just had to "suck it up or you'll be a bunch of disenfranchised Occupiers who never get anything on the board." He then proceded to say that the disenfranchisement "pulls you out of the election, which is how Democrats lose the midterms." Then he said, "after Bernie's first drone strike, everyone who supports him would head for the hills."

First, he mischaracterized and insulted the Occupy movement, of which I was a member, by saying we didn't didn't get anything on the boards. How about we changed the national conversation from the phony issue of the deficit to the real issue of wealth and income inequality and made a Bernie Sanders candidacy possible? Second, it is not up to us, many of us being independents and Greens, to vote for corporate Democrats in the mid-terms. He further insulted Bernie supporters by painting us as pie in the sky idealists unaware of Bernie's shortcomings, i.e., his support of drone strikes. If he knew anything about Bernie supporters, he would know we are well versed on the issues and where Bernie stands. However, we are not such purists that we would abandon him because he isn't 100% perfect.

Then he proceeded to show his complete ignorance of the presidential candidates by calling Donald Trump the Wall Street establishment candidate. Everyone knows that Donald Trump is a businessman who has denounced Wall Street bankers on the campaign trail. It is Hillary Clinton who courted their support, who made millions of dollars for speeches to them and won't release the transcripts, and whose campaign is being funded by Hank Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, and other Wall Street luminaries. It was recently reported that Elizabeth Warren will not be considered for Hillary's VP, because Wall Street won't allow it.

Next, after praising Bernie's campaign, Begala noted that Bernie's genius was in getting tens of thousands of people to his rallies that "the press coulnd't ignore." When the audience gasped and grumbled, he reiterated, "We covered those." Well, I beg to differ. Every Bernie suporter watched in dismay as the press covered Trump's rambling, incoherent rallies in their entirety while barely covering the substantive rallies of Bernie. You had to go to YouTube to find his important addresses to Liberty University and his foreign policy speech at Georgetown University, for example. The most egregious example of the press not covering Bernie was when he was speaking after five states voted in primaries, the cable networks focused their cameras on en empty stage with the graphic. "Waiting for Trump."

Then Begala borught out that oft repeated Hillary talking point that Bernie blew his "New York Daily News" interview when talking about how to break up the big banks. "When it came to his central issue, he stumbled," according to Begala. Well, no one on this panel stated that what Bernie said was actually correct, as the New York Times pointed out, and the Daily News interviewers were confused on the issue.

Next Sparks proceeded to speak about a subject he obviously knows nothing about. He said Bernie spent too much of his money on rallies, which were "more expensive than ad buys, outreach, door knocking." First, rallies are not more expensive than those things. Second, Bernie spent half his money on TV ad buys, which I actually think was money poorly spent, because the vast majority of his voter base was under 45, and they have cut the cord. Third, how would he know what we volunteers did for Bernie in state after state for the past year before the campaign came to town?

Then he further insulted us by saying "the idea that you are going to turn the political system on its head or even the banking system in one election cycle is cartoonish." Thankfully, Ana chimed in to shut him down by sayng Bernie supporters care about issues, know about policy, and that Bernie has concrete, detailed ideas on how to fix things.

Next Robinson piped in with the remark that after all was said and done "Most Democrats did not want Bernie to be their nominee." Now I cannot argue with him there. Even I would have preferred that Bernie run as an Independent. Yet I understood the strategic reasons why he didn't. But the fact is, who cares what most Democrats want when less than 30% of the electorate is in the Democratic Party. Depending on which poll you read, 43% or 50% of Americans identify as Independents. And the vast majority of them supported Bernie Sanders. Bernie won the independent vote big and won many open primaries. That was certainly a topic worth exploring. But the Democratic shills on the panel were not going to go there. Later Begala reiterated the point that 3 million voters preferred Hillary, and no one rebutted by saying that none of the caucus states were represented in the popular vote, and Bernie won most of them.

To his credit, Touré brought up the fact that the AP called the race for Hillary the night before the California primary, which many believe suppressed the vote. Our actor friend Sparks chimed in that what the AP said was "true" and it would be "self-censorship" for them to suppress it. Well, no one on the panel mentioned that the AP hounded those superdelegates for a week to get them to say how they would vote. Was that an accident? Also, we were screaming out in the audience that she did NOT have enough delegates the night before the California primary, because those superdelegates would NOT be voting until the convention six weeks later, during which time anything could happen. Our impartial moderator did not bring that up.

Begala then said that he took offense at the notion he thinks is held by Bernie supporters which is that Hillary supporters were too dumb to realize who was better, that they were following her around "like sheep. It is an insult to older voters and people of color." If I were on that panel, I would have pushed back with the comment that we didn't think they were too dumb, Instead we thought they were not informed about her record and her policies.

There is no one I know who ever asked a Hillary supporter why they were voting for her and didn't get one of these answers back: "She's got the experience." "She can hit the ground running." "I want to see a woman president." "Bernie's great, but he's unrealistic." Not one person knew that Hillary Clinton did not support a $15 minimum wage, that she sold fracking around the world and that she touted the TPP 45 times as Secretary of State. Hell, none of the Hillary suporters I talked to even knew what the TPP was.

Touré then got into the question of why Bernie struggled with black and brown voters. No one mentioned that he overwhelmingly won young black and brown voters. No one mentioned that Bernie won Latinos in Colorado, Illinois and Nevada. No one mentioned that Hillary has been running for seven years in the South and has a campaign infrastructure there and that Priorities USA, her super PAC, hired all the black political operatives in South Carolina who then went to work lobbying the pastors. No one brought up the fact that poor blacks in the South have nothing but the Democratic Party to get things from, and Bernie has never been a Democratic. No, we had to hear our actor, VHS personality falsely accuse Bernie of saying "All Lives Matter" when confronted with BLM activists, when in fact it was Martin O'Malley who said that.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Ana did make the point that there were individuals on the panel who worked for the Clinton campaign, and it is problem when they go from working in a campaign or an adminsitration to being a pundit on TV. Begala's retort was "Sometimes it helps to know what you're covering." Well, I guarantee that these pundits who attend the same cocktail parties as the politicians they cover, whose kids go to the same private schools as the kids of the politicians they cover, who never go outside the Beltway and talk to the 49% of Americans who don't have $300 in the bank to pay for a major car repair have a single clue of why the 99% flocked to Bernie Sanders. The have no idea why people of all generations from high school students to senior citizens supported this honest man. They are so jaded that they wouldn't know an honest politician, if one hit them in the face.

Then Touré brought up the fact that Bernie Sanders did not support reparations, that he said it was "divisive." This was a very obscure issue and one that the intellectual Ta-Nahesi Coates wrote about. Ana's answer to that was Bernie is an honest politician and sometimes answers off the cuff and doesn't have a perpared polished example. Well, she didn't mention that Bernie also said it was impractical as well as divissive, that Obama didn't support it either in 2008 and that Ta-Nehesi Coates, who wrote "The Case for Reparations" in the Atlantic ultimately endorsed Bernie.

Begala then restated his point that people just preferred Hillary, which is where Ana remarked that the people who preferred Hillary were comfortable. She said she was part of the generation of people who "went to college, got a masters degree and still can't manage to buy a $300,000 home in a shitty neighborhood."

Touré then brought up gun control equating it with being pro-choice, saying that Bernie was "tepid" and not progressive on guns. This betrayed his bias as this was a standard Hillary talking point in the campaign. He didn't mention that Bernie got a D- rating from the NRA and supports the assault weapons ban, closing the gun show loophole and instant background checks. Even Eugene Robinson admitted that this was not an issue at the polls.

Next Touré said that Krystal Ball, his former co-host on "The Cycle," wanted him to ask Begala why so many young voters distrust Hillary. What's a Hillary surrogate going to say? "It is really difficult to be in the spotlight that long." "She's been up there that long and things haven't changed."

When Taure said there were only eight minutes left, I got up and walked over to him to ask if there would be any questions as I needed to bring up some major rebuttals to what was said. He told me there was no time. So I walked over to the speakers microphone and started to speak. The mic was not even turned on. He immediately called for security to deal with the threat of me, a 108-pound 58-year-old woman. When I turned to walk back to my seat, I saw a burly man in black approach me. At that point, he was intercepted by Yosi Sergant, someone I know from having covered his art show Manifest Justice, for this very publication. He actually organized the panel. He called off the security guard, told me to discuss my points with the panelists after, and I sat down. The whole thing took one minute. You can watch it here.

Back to the panel. Sparks brought up his Occupy analogy again saying "Occupy withered and died" because they didn't run any candidates. Hello! Occupy was a social movement not an electoral movement. Occupiers were deeply suspicious of electoral politics and for good reason. He said there should have been Occupy mayors and state senators. Then with venom in his voice, he said Bernie was "an Independent who borrowed the structure of the Democratic party for his own goddamn run." Wow!

Begala tried to prove how progressive Hillary was by quoting the statistic that when she was in the Senate, she and Bernie voted together 93% of the time. "If they met on Match.com, they'd be dating." Huh! Her 25-year career consisted of more than just her Senate record. Young people were able to learn the things she said as First Lady, the things she did as Secretary of State, how she changed positions over time and when she spoke to different audiences; and they have determined that she is not the progressive she makes herself out to be. In fact, we don't know what her ideology is. In another panel later that day on campaign strategy, they criticized her slogan "I'm With Her," saying it sounded like some loyalty oath rather than what she wants to do for the country.

Next Begala asked "Do you want a movement or a monument?" showing that he didn't understand the most basic thing about the Sanders campaign. He said "It shouldn't be about Senator Sanders. It should be about us." Hello! Does he not know that Bernie's slogan was "Not Me, Us?" That in every speech he said, "It's not about Bernie Sanders but about millions of people getting involved in the political process?" Does he not know that last week in his livestream address to his supporters, Bernie called on us to run for local and state offices, and over 12,000 people signed up to do that? No one on the panel mentioned this or Brand New Congress, an effort started by former Sanders staffers and volunteers to turnover the entire Congress in 2018, or the local version here in L.A., Brand New City, which was having its first meeting the very next day.

Paul Begala told us that we had a choice of Hillary or Trump or staying home, again invoking both fear and the lesser of two evil arguments, while people in the audience yelled out "Jill Stein."

The panel concluded on this note. Paul Begala told us that we had a choice of Hillary or Trump or staying home, again invoking both fear and the lesser of two evil arguments, while people in the audience yelled out "Jill Stein." Ana had the last word saying that Hillary needed to earn the support of Bernie supporters.

No one mentioned that the previous day, the Hillary and Wasserman-Schultz appointees on the Democratic platform drafting committee, voted down almost all of Bernie's proposals, refusing to include a ban on fracking, a carbon tax, free public college, single payer health care and more in this supposed "progressive" platform. This is clear evidence that Hillary is not a progressive; but more importantly, it shows that she really doesn't care about winning over Bernie's supporters at all. She is more actively courting Republican endorsements and donors.

After the panel, I went onto the stage to talk to the panelists, as Yosi suggested, and Touré ambushed me by getting up in my face and in an aggrieved tone accused me of attacking him. I thought that was rich seeing as he had called security on me. I said that obviously for him the best defense was a good offense. He kept hammering at me while all the panelists I wanted to speak to left the stage.

So I turned to Yosi and told him that his panel was really biased and he should have had more Bernie supporters on there. He told me that Touré was really a supporter of Bernie but couldn't be public about it because of his role as a commentator. Well, with friends like that bringing up all of Hillary's talking points, who needs enemies? When I told Yosi that he should have had someone like me who has represented Bernie all year on CNN International, HLN, KPFK-FM and KABC-TV, Touré piped up with. "Well, you are a very bad representative of Bernie's campaign."

The irony of that remark is twofold. One, Touré has been a vocal defender of Black Lives Matter and their disruptive tactics. I hardly disrupted this event at all, as the video shows, much less to the degree that BLM does. Two, in 2012, Touré started a Twitter war with Piers Morgan when he felt that Piers didn't challenge George Zimmerman's brother on his show "the way a professional journalist should." In light of that, you'd think he'd be a little more understanding of where I was coming from.

The next time Yosi Sergant organizes a panel, he should ensure that the moderator and the majority of the panelists be actual Bernie supporters. If he didn't think I was enough of a name to draw an audience, he could have asked Jonathan Tasini, Richard Eskow or Nomiki Konst, all able Bernie surrogates. Had he done that, the questions would be designed to bring out the positive aspects of Bernie's campaign and why it resonated with so many people and not the negative talking points a Hillary supporter would ask.

The only good thing that came out of this biased panel at Politicon was that it reinforced what Bernie suporters already know. It's alway been on us to tell our own story, write our own narrative, and make our own media. That's how Bernie got as far as he did, and that's how we will advance the Political Revolution he's engaged us in.

lauren-steiner-4-16

Lauren Steiner